President Trump last week confirmed what his administration has been signaling all along: It will stand behind Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman even if he ordered the brutal murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. In a crude statement punctuated with exclamation points, Trump sidestepped a CIA finding that the crown prince was behind the killing; casually slandered Khashoggi, who was one of the Arab world’s most distinguished journalists; and repeated gross falsehoods and exaggerations about the benefits of the U.S. alliance with the kingdom.
As with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s interference in the 2016 election, Trump is justifying his affinity for a brutal and reckless leader by disregarding the findings of the U.S. intelligence community. The Post reported Friday that the CIA has concluded with “high confidence” — a rating it does not apply lightly — that Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of Khashoggi.
Trump’s response is to grudgingly acknowledge that “it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event” before adding “maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” He declares the truth unknowable and thus irrelevant: “We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder.”
In fact, the truth about Khashoggi’s death is not only knowable but largely known. Audio recordings in the CIA’s possession record his actual killing as well as phone calls from the hit team to Mohammed bin Salman’s close aides.
While discounting these facts, Trump bases his continued backing for the regime on false claims, including his thoroughly debunked boast that Saudi Arabia will “spend and invest $450 billion” in the United States.
Worst of all, Trump libels Khashoggi, saying that “representatives of Saudi Arabia” had called him an “enemy of the state” and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. The crown prince did make those allegations in a phone call to the White House — but the regime itself was so embarrassed when the Post reported on the call that it denied making them. Khashoggi’s family has confirmed that he was not a member of the Brotherhood.
Trump concluded his statement by inviting Congress “to go in a different direction.” As in the Russia case, it must do so. Bipartisan legislation mandating sanctions for all those implicated in Khashoggi’s death is pending in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., has said he wanted to know “what more would be done” by the administration before Congress responded. Now he knows. If Mohammed bin Salman is to be held accountable, as Corker said he must, the committee must act. The alternative is a world where dictators know they can murder their critics and suffer no consequences.
— Washington Post
The Los Angeles Times on acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker:
Alarm bells understandably rang earlier this month when Matthew G. Whitaker, the chief of staff to fired Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, leapfrogged over more senior — and Senate-confirmed — Justice Department officials to become President Trump’s acting attorney general.
It’s hard to imagine a less reassuring replacement. As a commentator, Whitaker (a former U.S. attorney in Iowa) had questioned the investigation conducted by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III and even suggested that Mueller’s appointment smelled “a little fishy.” Yet as acting attorney general, Whitaker is positioned to be the ultimate overseer of an investigation that, among other matters, is looking into whether Trump’s 2016 campaign illegally colluded with Russia.
Even more ominously, Trump seems to be in no rush to nominate a new attorney general. Meanwhile, he said over the weekend that he “would not get involved” if Whitaker moved to curtail Mueller’s investigation. That’s hardly surprising, given that Trump has described the probe as an illegal “witch hunt.”
Trump’s latest comments underline the importance of enacting legislation to protect Mueller, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) perversely has refused to advance despite its bipartisan backing. The Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in April would codify a Justice Department rule that special counsels can be fired only for good cause and would allow a counsel to appeal his or her dismissal in court. It needs to be enacted.
But Trump’s comments, including his praise for Whitaker, point to another problem: By elevating Whitaker, who is not a Senate-confirmed official, the president is violating the spirit and possibly the letter of the Constitution’s Appointments Clause. In a lawsuit filed on Monday, three Democratic U.S. senators — Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island — claim that Whitaker’s appointment flouts not only the Constitution but also a statute setting out a line of succession for the Justice Department.
Installing a staffer like Whitaker as acting attorney general would be troubling under any circumstances. But with the president’s own conduct being scrutinized by Mueller, it’s vital that an official confirmed by the Senate have oversight over the probe.
Because Sessions rightly had recused himself from the Russia investigation in light of his role in the 2016 Trump campaign, that oversight had been provided by Session’s Senate-confirmed deputy, Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller. But with Sessions’ forced resignation, that authority passes to Whitaker. You don’t have to endorse Whitehouse’s description of Whitaker as a “lackey” to be troubled by entrusting responsibility for the Mueller investigation to him.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is expected to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee in the new Congress, blithely declared the he didn’t see “any indication at all” that Trump or Whitaker will interfere with Mueller’s investigation, which apparently has reached a crucial point with Trump answering written questions posed by the special counsel.
Pardon us if we’re not reassured. Trump has continually raged against the special counsel’s investigation, even after it resulted in indictments and guilty pleas. The fact that Sessions’ recusal led to Mueller’s appointment prompted the president to humiliate and eventually fire a man who was a key supporter during the campaign and who as attorney general faithfully executed the president’s policies.
Whatever one thought of Sessions’ policy views — and we opposed most of them — his decision to recuse himself from investigations connected to the 2016 campaign was admirable. And it flowed from the fact that, as Sessions noted in his recusal statement, he had assured the Senate Judiciary Committee that “if a specific matter arose where I believed my impartiality might reasonably be questioned, I would consult with Department ethics officials regarding the most appropriate way to proceed.” Such assurances are an important part of the Senate confirmation process.
Trump must expeditiously identify a new nominee for attorney general who can be questioned by the Senate early in the new year about his or her professionalism and integrity. That nominee also should be required, as a condition of confirmation, to promise not to allow political considerations to influence the administration of justice. In the meantime, where the Mueller investigation is concerned, Whitaker — assuming he doesn’t recuse himself, which seems unlikely — must show appropriate deference to the judgment of the professionals who have been pursuing this matter since long before his inappropriate elevation.
The Japan News on the U.S.-China conflict and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum:
The increase in antagonism between the United States and China has affected multilateral talks, too. Being aware of their responsibility as the world’s largest and second-largest economies, the two nations must reconcile with each other in abating the conflict.
The latest summit meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum has ended, but without an APEC leaders’ joint declaration being adopted. It was the first time this has happened since the initial top-level APEC meeting in 1993.
The United States demanded that the declaration include a reference urging the World Trade Organization to increase penalties against unfair trade practices. It was possible to view the U.S. move as an attempt to exert greater international pressure on China, with a view to achieving WTO reforms targeting China.
In consideration of the “America first” policy pursued by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, China sought to ensure the declaration includes objections to what it calls “unilateralism” by the United States. Neither the United States nor China accepted each other’s assertions, forcing the chair nation of Papua New Guinea to give up on adopting the declaration.
The APEC forum is a framework for Asia-Pacific nations and territories to cooperate in striving for the stability and economic development of the Asia-Pacific region. If the meetings continue to have similar results, it could raise questions about the reason for the forum’s existence.
How should the forum collate the opinions of its member states and regions and incorporate them into declarations, while taking points of disagreement into consideration? It is about time to reconsider how APEC meetings should be managed and what documented agreements should be like.
The U.S.-China battle of words over supremacy in Asia was also staged through speeches given at APEC-related gatherings.
Urging participants to join the “Belt and Road” initiative, which seeks to create a huge economic zone, Chinese President Xi Jinping sought to restrain the United States, saying that rules are not a result of assertions by anyone with great power.
“We don’t drown our partners in a sea of debt,” U.S. Vice President Mike Pence emphasized, bearing in mind the fact that China is seeking to saddle “Belt and Road” project partner countries with debts, a move aimed at transforming harbors and other facilities there into its military footholds.
If China’s aggressive moves, including an attempt to establish military footholds in the South China Sea, are left unchecked, it would allow the country to snatch leadership of the regional order and economic interests in the Indo-Pacific.
This sense of urgency is increasingly shared not only by the Trump administration but also by the U.S. Congress and industrial circles. To ease the U.S.-China conflict, the Xi administration must realize that rectifying his nation’s hegemonistic conduct and unfair trade practices is indispensable.
It is also impermissible for the United States to be promoting trade policies that pay no heed to international rules, including the unilateral imposition of punitive tariffs. The U.S.-China trade war is a factor in stagnating global trade and investment and disturbing financial markets.
At an upcoming summit meeting, Trump and Xi should promote constructive talks aimed at mending the rift.
The Wall Street Journal on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s long-awaited regulatory proposals on handling accusations of sexual abuse on campus:
For those awaiting a restoration of rational discourse in American politics, well, you’ll have to keep waiting. No other conclusion is possible after seeing the reaction to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s long-awaited regulatory proposals last week on handling accusations of sexual abuse on campus.
From California Democrat Maxine Waters: “Betsy DeVos, you won’t get away with what you are doing. We are organizing to put an end to your destruction of civil rights protections for students.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden said on Facebook that the proposal “would return us to the days when schools swept rape and assault under the rug and survivors were shamed into silence.”
The centerpiece of the proposed regulations is — hold your fire — restoring the right of cross-examination, one of the oldest and most hallowed elements of due process.
The Obama Department of Education, responding to legitimate concerns about sexual abuse on campus, issued guidelines that went overboard, casting away many basic protections for the accused. The result has subjected victims and the accused to a system of campus justice often controlled by amateurs and political activists.
For more than four decades the Department of Education has set Title IX policy by issuing “guidance,” which circumvents the normal rule-making process. The Obama-era sexual abuse guidance was essentially an administrative diktat. The public had no chance to comment, and universities, which understood federal funding was at risk, opted to dilute standard legal protections for accused students.
Secretary DeVos has instead followed normal rule-making to create a balance between protecting victims and the rights of the accused. The proposals include “the right of every survivor to be taken seriously and the right of every person accused to know that guilt is not predetermined.” Both the alleged victim and the accused would be able to inspect and review all evidence.
All Title IX hearings would include cross-examination, which could occur in-person or by live stream, with campus adjudicators allowed to observe the demeanor of witnesses as they assess credibility. The statements of anyone who refuses cross-examination could not be considered in the final determination. Title IX judges would be required to consider both inculpatory and exculpatory evidence.
The proposed rule acknowledges how schools’ “treatment of both complainant and respondent could constitute discrimination on the basis of sex.” Both the alleged victim and the accused would enjoy the same opportunities for appeal, and, if both parties agreed, administrators could offer informal resolution processes like mediation.
One troubling aspect remains. Universities could still use a weaker “preponderance of evidence” as the standard of proof, similar to civil cases, rather than a higher “clear and convincing evidence” standard. Ms. DeVos mitigates this somewhat by barring universities from using this lower standard for only sexual assault or harassment if they rely on a higher standard for comparable disciplinary cases.
This is an attempt at compromise, but Mrs. DeVos will get no credit from the Democratic Party’s identity-politics police. Their standard now is essentially that the accused must prove his innocence no matter the lack of evidence against him, as we learned during the Senate’s Brett Kavanaugh crucible.
The proposed protections are nonetheless progress, and would go a long way to restore basic norms of fairness and justice to campus courts.
Miami Herald on the Trump administration preparing to add Venezuela to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism:
It appears the Trump administration is ready to add Venezuela to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism — a country non grata. That’s welcome news in South Florida, where thousands of refugees of Nicolas Maduro’s regime live in exile.
Citing U.S. officials and internal government emails, the Washington Post reported Monday night that the Trump administration is taking the drastic measure against the renegade South American country, officially declaring it an enemy of America. A State Department spokeswoman declined to comment to The Post.
The designation would place Venezuela on a list reserved for governments repeatedly accused of being “a state sponsor of terrorism,” like Iran, North Korea, Syria and Sudan. Sister country Cuba fought and won removal from the notorious list in 2016 during the Obama administration.
Does Venezuela really qualify as a top danger to America? Yes, according to Miami Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who has led the push to label Venezuela as such. In fact, indications are that the administration is likely acting on Rubio’s expert advice. The senator has long been a thorn in Maduro’s side. We commend Rubio for his tenacity against a power-hungry dictator who has made a mockery of his country’s democracy.
In a letter, Rubio and two Senate colleagues lobbied Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to place the designation on Venezuela, highlighting the regime’s links to U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN), Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) as well as to Hezbollah supporters.
“The crisis in Venezuela is dire and worsening every day,” the senators wrote. “The United States must use all available tools to protect the American homeland and our people from the Venezuelan dictatorship’s egregious support for terrorism and narcotrafficking. We strongly believe that the Maduro regime meets the criteria necessary to designate the current Venezuelan government as a state sponsor of terrorism.”
The sanction would be a strong, solid move by the Trump administration against a Latin American strongman who is ruining his country. Maduro is a menace, that is clear.
The designation would limit U.S. assistance to Venezuela and tighten the economic noose by prohibiting any remaining financial transactions between the United States and Venezuela.
But there is a downside — and collateral damage. Unfortunately, the new status would only worsen the already terrible conditions of the Venezuelan people — and neighboring Colombia, which is experiencing the brunt of absorbing nearly 1 million Venezuelans fleeing their homeland. The flood of refugees is putting “significant pressure” on Colombia’s economy. That’s what Colombia’s ambassador to the United States, Francisco Santos, recently told the Editorial Board. The United States should pair increased aid to help Colombia better absorb the deluge of people with any uptick in sanctions against Venezuela.
Despite jokes that Trump never met a strongman he didn’t like, the president has repeatedly criticized the Venezuelan government and has occasionally fired salvos across Maduro’s bow, even hinting that military intervention might be the only way to pry Maduro away from power. That’s a threat that should not be made lightly, nor a step that this administration should take.
However, stepping up the pressure on Venezuela would be the right move.
Boston Herald on holiday spending and gas prices:
As we head into the holidays it is no secret that our wallets take a beating. According to a 2017 National Retail Federation survey, Americans spend an average of $795.97 from Thanksgiving through Christmas.
That is compared to $186.39 on Mother’s Day and $86.13 on Halloween.
Enter some good news: Gas prices are falling just in time to dampen the financial blow of the season. AAA Northeast reported that its weekly survey found self-serve regular costing about $2.71 at the pumps. That is down 3 cents from last week, 13 cents cheaper than the national average five weeks ago.
That is welcome news for those in New England and around the country, where the average price is $2.62 per gallon. According to The Associated Press, there will be some 48.5 million Americans on the roads for Thanksgiving.
Crude oil prices have dropped and some credit must be given to President Trump. The United States has increased production domestically and done some clever maneuvering around Iranian sanctions.
“If you look at oil prices, they’ve come down very substantially over the last couple of months,” said Trump. “That’s because of me. Because you have a monopoly called OPEC, and I don’t like that monopoly.”